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Alumnus Shares Two Stories from Catawba, 50 Years Ago

October 05, 2007

Category: Alumni, Athletics, Theatre Arts


Catawba Alumnus Ed Wenck '58 recently shared two stories from the rich history at Catawba College. The stories below both took place 50 years ago this year:

THE REVIVAL OF THE TRACK TEAM
by Ed Wenck '58
During the years 1954 to 1957, for whatever reason, Catawba had only three varsity sports for men. The Catawba Indians played football, basketball and baseball, but nothing else. One evening at the beginning of the Spring 1957 semester, a group of students in "E" section of the old "S-R" dorm decided there should be a track team. And that evening they acted upon their decision.

Dr. A. R. Keppel was president of Catawba College at that time. Each time President Keppel took the podium to address the Catawba students he would say: "If ever you have a problem come see me. My door is always open."   Taking him at his word that particular evening, Harold Blackwelder '57, John Fromm '57, Donald Wack '58, Al Goosman '58 and Ed Wenck '58 went to see President Keppel at his home around 7:30PM. They asked if Catawba could have a track team. In their presentation they pointed out that the school had had a team in the past. There were Catawba students who had run track in high school and would come out to participate if Catawba had a team. They even had a coach in chemistry professor, Kenneth Ackerman, who would agree to coach the team.

True to his word President Keppel listened to the plea. When the students were finished with their presentation Dr. Keppel surprised them with his response. He had run track in college. He thought it was great idea. To top it all off he would provide a budget of $ 300, which was a goodly sum in those days. The decision did not make Athletic Director, Earl Ruth a happy camper because he did not want money taken from the three major sports. But President Keppel was, after all, the president and the decision stood. That was the beginning of the revival of track at Catawba. The students found hurdles and other equipment under the stadium stands and the first season of the revival was the spring of 1957.At the end of the season varsity letters were given to track team members but they were not allowed to be inducted as members of the varsity club with the explanation that only the three major sports participants were entitled to that honor. Over the years that has changed. Now the Indians have a full menu of sports including track.


THE FIRST "GOLDEN SCREW"
by Ed Wenck '58
It was the spring of 1957. The school year had seen the production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in October '56. Then, in December '56, student director Harold Blackwelder gave us "Arsenic And Old Lace". Department head, Prof. Hobgood directed "Henry IV, Part I in March '57. And, in the spring of '57, Prof. Colbath directed "They All Got Away", a selection from the "new play series". It had been an exciting year for the Blue Masque and the drama department.

Even more excitement was to come. In September of 1957 a troupe of Catawba students, led by Prof. Colbath, would participate in the "Premier Festival International Du Theatre Amateur" in Monaco. That group would be the smash hit of the festival. So, in the spring of 1957, it was with tired excitement and anxious anticipation that the Blue Masque members celebrated, as they usually did, with a "strike party" after dismantling the set of the last production.

It was the custom to give awards of different types for the on stage actors at this final "strike party". But up until the spring of 1957 no thought had ever been given to honoring   the work of the backstage crews. Those persons who built the sets, rigged the lights, and set up the sound were thanked for their hard work, but no award was ever presented until that spring. Harold Blackwelder, the president of the Blue Masque that year and Jim Lineberger, the group's historian, did not think that omission was quite right. They believed some kind of recognition should be given to the back stage Blue Masque workers as well as the actors. From their very fertile imaginations they came up with the idea of giving an award to the best back stage worker and that trophy would be given each year thereafter. But what to give? Harold and Jim, both funny guys when they wanted to be, decided that the proper award would be a "Stage Screw". The got a stage screw, had it gilded and then created an entertaining presentation ceremony with which to make the award. After all the actor awards had been given out, the moment came. Without announcement down the aisle they came, one holding an American flag and the other holding high for all to see the gilded golden screw. Up to the stage they proceeded. Then they called to the stage Donald "Dink" Wack, the house carpenter for that semester. Dink had worked long and hard that spring on the Henry IV production and the new play. Harold and Jim thought he deserved to be the first recipient of the "Golden Screw". The award was made to raucous laughter and good humor, and it was the beginning of the tradition of honoring the backstage workers that is now, in 2007, some fifty years old.

"Dink" went on to graduate in 1958 and become a high school teacher. Harold and Jim would be part of the group that would wow the audience at the Monaco Festival after graduating that spring of 1957. And from that year on some backstage worker of the Blue Masque would be honored for his or her hard work. "Kiss the turtle".


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